Tag California

Mystic Rhythms

Le Corbusier didn't forget.

Le Corbusier didn’t forget.

So many things I think about
When I look far away
Things I know, things I wonder
Things I’d like to say
The more we think we know about
The greater the unknown
We suspend our disbelief
And we are not alone…

Mystic rhythms
Capture my thoughts
Carry them away
Mysteries of night escape the light of day
Mystic rhythms
Under northern lights
Or the African sun
Primitive things stir
The hearts of everyone

Rush “Mystic Rhythms”

Last month I attended the 2014 Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture conference in at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California. Thoughtful, multi-sensory design and the phenomenology of architecture is a particular interest of mine. The conference was excellent because scientists and practitioners shared the varying ways they are trying to understand the brain and put this knowledge into designs for buildings. Much like the notion that 100 years ago all food was organic and now it’s a specialty item that we have to pay extra for, I’m amazed at how the architecture of primitive and traditional societies unconsciously incorporated features essential to human well being and now our “Modern” advanced society needs to rediscover all the things we’ve forgotten.

The human body is regulated by internal processed but external factors play a big role in keeping everything running smoothly. Much like the timing belt of an automobile keeps all the engine parts humming in unison, circadian rhythms help us wake up, be alert during the day, get hungry at regular times, and helps put us to bed. Though these activities are internal to the body, the are adjusted or entrained by the external cues called Zeitgebers. Zeitgeber is a German word meaning “time giver” or “synchronizer.” There are several cues that influence us, daylight is the primary one.

Humans developed in the outdoors, so it is only reasonable that the natural cycles of light and dark have such a profound affect on us. As the sun moves across the sky over the course of the day, the spectrum of light changes. In the early morning until about noon, intensity is high in the blue region of 400 – 500 nanometers. As the sun sets, blue light is scattered and the light appears orange-red in the range of 600 – 700 nanometers. As a species, living and working indoors is a relatively new experience. Artificial illumination from electric lighting, computer screens, televisions, tablets and smartphones can all have detrimental effects on maintaining circadian balance because the photoreceptors in the eyes are getting the wrong spectrum of light at the wrong time of day.

Sensing Architecture

Scott's Nose

Front and Center

“Richard Neutra commented in 1949 that we should devote as much attention as possible to all the non-visual aspects of our environment. He thus anticipated the design limits of those who fail to consider the other senses. It is a surprising affirmation because it dates from a time when we never would have suspected such issues to surface, when the dictates of Modernism were in full swing and the dominance of the visual dimension had yet to be challenged. Yet Neutra, working on architecture at the edges of the desert, could not limit himself to formal functionalism while the fine and pungent earth around him filled his eyes and nostrils.”

Anna Barbara and Anthony Perliss “Invisible Architecture – Experiencing Places through the Sense of Smell”

The goal of designing buildings that provide multi-sensory delight the to occupants has two main facets. Initially this means amplifying conditions that provide positive sensory stimulation such as planting fragrant Palo Verde trees in the courtyard of a desert house or designing a door handle that is a comforting to the touch and welcomes you home. On the flip side it means removing or reducing negative stimulations such as bathroom fans and kitchen exhaust hoods that remove smells insufficiently or with too much motor noise or having an entrance to a building on the north side in a snowy climate where ice is likely to form and become a hazard. And in all cases it is imperative to remove the lethal Volatile Organic Compounds and radon gas that can poison occupants silently and invisibly.

Southwest Spirit June 2014

Southwest Spirit June 2014

In June while flying from Los Angeles to Portland, I read an article in Southwest Spirit magazine by Annie Monjar entitled Scents & Sensibility that probes the relationship between smell, emotion, memory and individual experience. At the recent Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture conference I attended in La Jolla several researchers presented on these issues as well. Dr. Upali Nanda, Vice President and Director of Research at the architectural firm HKS presented information on how smell affects performance of doctors and nurses in emergency room settings.

Academy for Neuroscience for Architecture

Brain scan of a patient thinking about the Farnsworth House.

Brain scan of a patient thinking about the Farnsworth House.

Written by Scott M B Gustafson

I am heading down to the Salk Institute in La Jolla for the 2014 Academy for Neuroscience for Architecture conference. The Academny is a cross disciplinary group of scientists, architects and designers who study how the brain responds to environmental stimuli and aim to improve their designs with this knowledge. For certain great designs contain a spark of magic, but there’s not reason why the magic can’t be influenced by some solid science too.